Pastor to Pastor: 5 Questions About Pastoral Transitions

Yesterday was the anniversary of my resignation of my last pastoral position. The transition was fantastic as was my tenure there. Serving at Christian Celebration Center were 7 of the greatest years of my life (thank you to Facebook and their “memories” feature for the reminder). 

These past 24 hours, combined with the past few pastor-to-pastor blogs, has brought up a thought of pastoral transitions. 

Do all pastors know how to leave churches appropriately? Judging by numbers of congregants I’ve encountered: no.

I’M NOT AN EXPERT IN THIS. Why? Because I don’t have extensive experience with personal resignations (which I celebrate and give God the glory for). In 19 years of ministry, I have held 3 positions including my current one. But being a Lead Pastor and being networked with numbers of other pastors, I have had extensive experience in talking men and women through this tough experience. 

5 Questions you should be asking when it comes to pastoral transition: 

What does your spouse say?

When I talk with pastors, I always ask about their spouse. Why? The two become one. And listening to the voice of the Holy Spirit on transitions, I believe, should be done in the oneness of the marriage. Any transition I have done, I refused to do without the prayer and input of my wife, Anne.  There should be red flags going up if you and your spouse don’t/won’t communicate and work together during these times.  We do not move anywhere unless we both have the peace that passes understanding.

Pray IN the oneness of marriage. Hear IN the oneness of marriage. Walk IN the oneness of marriage.

Why are you leaving? 
– Are you sensing the Holy Spirit leading you in a new direction?
– Do you sense a close of a season of ministry where you are at?
– Are you being transitioned out because of a change in leadership?
– Are you in a place of fracture?
– Have sinful decisions put you in a place of having to transition out? 

The answer encompasses two things: listening to God and honesty with yourself. First, how closely are you listening to the voice of the Holy Spirit?Have you and your spouse spent time fasting and praying over this? Do you both have a peace about leaving? It can be quit easy to listen to our emotions.  Being wanted by another church/pastor is flattering and (if I can say it this way) seductive.  I have to always remind myself: open doors do not necessarily mean they were meant to be walked through. On the other side of our emotions, we can allow hurt and frustration to fool us into thinking a door is closing.  I’ve been there.  And I have to remind myself that my emotions are real and important but were never designed to rule my life. Like the Psalmist (Psalms 42-43), we need to steward our emotions and make sure we’re listening to the Holy Spirit for direction.

Secondly, sometimes we pastors can over-spiritualize the departure and never be truly honest about the “why” of our leaving.  An honest approach makes us confront the issues at hand and help us move toward the healing we AND a congregation needs.  Are you needing the transition? Is the congregation needing the transition? Has God brought the season to a close? The answer can vary but it needs to be honest. And the more forthright you are with the reason, the greater opportunity for God to help.  Bring it into the light. Are you hurt? Be honest with yourself about it. Do you feel a release? Be honest with yourself about it.

Who is advising you?

The bible says, “Plans go wrong for lack of advice; many advisers bring success.” I learned a long time ago, the enemy works in isolation, God works in community. Bring community around you that has a heart after God, a love for you, and the guts to shoot straight. It’s not about seeking voices to make you feel better, but you need Godly wisdom to help you through this. Find two types of counsel. Get some “Barnabas” people (peers).  These are encouragers who are in similar places where you are at. They’ll connect with you because they’re in somewhat identical elements.  BUT…make sure you get the other type of counsel. Get some “Paul” people (mentor). These are wiser people who, perhaps, are people who have walked this road before. I value the input by older wiser pastors. Their wisdom is of immense proportion to me and decisions I make. 

How are you leaving?

There’s a couple of statements I make to every person who contacts me regarding a resignation: “Don’t leave in a way to make yourself feel better or justified. Leave in a way that is going to give God glory.”  You leaving shouldn’t invoke any type of spirit of retribution or anger. On the other side, don’t leave like a diva (trying to center everything about you).  The church you are leaving is staying put and they need to think about the next step. If they want to honor you when you leave, that’s fine. It’s a good thing. But when you start making diva-demands about how you are to be honored, you are treading on dangerous ground.

This isn’t YOUR church. This isn’t YOUR ministry. This is the Lord’s church.  Just as much as you expect those who leave the church you pastor in a respectful, Godly way…you are no different. We walk in submission to His Lordship. Leave in a way that leaves a Christ-like taste on the pallets of people’s spirits. 

What’s my next step? 
– Where are you going?
– Do you, your marriage, or your children/family need healing? 
– Do you need a sabbatical from ministry?
– Should vocational ministry the right next step?
– Are you seeking/needing help?

The highest calling isn’t a ministry title; it’s obedience.  Be obedient to the next step that God has for you and your family regardless of the “title” (or lack thereof).  

I’ll never forget what my dad spoke into my life back in high school. “David, no one can tell you God’s will for your life. You need to hear from the Holy Spirit yourself.” I’ve valued that wisdom. It doesn’t mean I don’t seek advice of other pastors and leaders. It doesn’t mean I reject counsel. But Anne and I need to be sensitive to His leading on what the next step is. Do you need healing? Before stepping back into vocation ministry, get some healing. Is God leading you away from vocational ministry? Then be obedient.  Having “Pastor” in front of your name does not make you a second-class minister in the Kingdom of God. Just be obedient to how and where the Holy Spirit is leading.  Find the next step and take it no matter how small or big it is.

Your responsibility: obedience to the next step.
God’s responsibility: everything else.

He is faithful. He will equip you. He will guide you.  

Regardless of the reason, transitions are difficult. There’s a lot going on and a lot of pieces moving.  But in whatever you face and whatever changes happen, do everything in a manner that exalts the name of Jesus.

I love you all.  I pray that God would bless you, keep you, and make His face shine upon you. Let His countenance turn toward you and grant you peace.


Thanks for letting me ramble…


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